In medicine, politicians aren't Santa Clause
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on April 2, 2007.
Warning: This article is for mature readers.
The Blue Ribbon Commission for Healthcare Reform brought its tents to town March 24. It was quite a show.
To get an idea of how the meeting at City Hall went, picture Mesa Mall at Christmas. Dozens of small children are lined up to sit on Santa's lap. At first the children are slow to approach this great authority figure, but as a few expound on all of the special wants they would like to see under the tree, the others start adding to their own list.
As children, we believe that a magical man named Santa Clause makes gifts with the help of elves in his palace in the North Pole. Once a year he cruises through the air behind his flying reindeer, winks to jump through the chimney, and delivers presents to girls and boys, all without cost.
As adults, we come to understand that Santa Clause is an inspirational myth. We lovingly indulge our children's fantasies. But adults who believe in a literal Santa Clause stop being cute, and if they take their fantasies too far they might strike us as candidates for the psych ward.
Unfortunately, numerous self-purported adults among us pretend that government has the same magic as Santa Clause, and, if we only wish hard enough, government can provide "free" medical care for everybody, all without the costs of rationing, bureaucratic control, or reduction of medical quality.
But we have no desire to impugn the noble soul of Santa Clause by comparing him to socialists. Indeed, the true spirit of Santa is the opposite of government force.
Santa "is for justice -- Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones," as Leonard Peikoff writes in his classic essay on Christmas. On the other hand, socialized medicine encourages politicians and bureaucrats to seize power, as it encourages recipients of the "free" care to behave irresponsibly.
Santa Clause represents the celebration of productivity and benevolent gift-giving. Santa and the parents who work behind the scenes give gifts by voluntary choice. Government distributes "gifts" to some by threatening to throw others in jail if they don't hand over their money or services.
The beautiful truth behind the myth is that, by Christmas Eve, parents have already purchased their gifts for their own children and for chosen friends, wrapped the gifts, and hidden them away.
Parents purchase these gifts (or supplies) by voluntary exchange on a free market. Consider a gift-certificate to a coffee shop. A farmer grows the coffee that is transported by ship to the U.S., then trucked to Grand Junction where we can purchase it at a local shop. Other businesses produce the gift-certificates. Maybe we missed it, but we don't remember hearing anything about a Blue Ribbon Commission for Coffee Care Reform.
Medicine needs to be "reformed" only because and to the extent that politicians have messed it up. Any sensible reform consists of repealing coercive interventions.
The pretext for the Commission's local P.R. meeting was to seek public comment on eleven "criteria for evaluating proposals submitted to the Commission." These "criteria" are so vague as to be next to useless. For example, Criterion #9 mentions "consumer choice" -- does this mean that patients get to "choose" which bureaucratically-controlled doctor gets to administer rationed care?
What we did not find in the list is the most important criterion to evaluate government action: the protection of individual rights.
But sometimes some members of the commission appear sensible. Lin Zinser, founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, wrote a report for her web page (WeStandFirm.org) about a March 28 Commission meeting that she attended.
Zinser reviews, "A few of the commissioners seemed disheartened that few business owners and employers attended [the regional meetings], but one commissioner reminded them that small business owners and employers work more than 40 hours a week, and had little incentive to attend. The Commission Chair also pointed out that these public comment sessions most likely did not represent the views of most of the people of the State of Colorado, but rather only those who were providers, those who felt their health care was substantially lacking, or those who had no insurance."
Hopefully the Commission will listen to Coloradans who, like Zinser, support freedom and individual rights in medicine. You can find out more from FIRM's web page (which features your younger author's blogs and his wife's logo). WeStandFirm.org provides outstanding essays by Peikoff and Linda Gorman (whom we regard as the Commission's best member) about the ethics and history of medical policy.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. And he knows that it's naughty to use force against others, as health socialists demand. When Santa Clause gives gifts, he does so voluntarily, using his own resources, from his own good will.